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The Buzzer: Wheeler keeps dealing; big apples

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Three Stars

1. Blake Wheeler

What a night for the wildly underrated Winnipeg Jets captain.

Wheeler scored a goal and four assists, crossing 400 for his (again, wildly underrated) career. That milestone helper came as he read Nathan MacKinnon to create a turnover and set the table for Nikolaj Ehlers. Three of Wheeler’s four assists were primary helpers, too.

As usual, the winger brought a great all-around game, earning a +3 rating and logging a significant 3:13 of shorthanded time.

This virtuoso performance extended Wheeler’s point streak to nine games (two goals, 15 assists). Wheeler’s now at 21 points on the season, with 18 of them being assists, which ranks second in the NHL.

Mark Scheifele had a strong game against the struggling Avs, too, scoring a goal and two assists.

2. Mikael Granlund

The Wild absolutely dominated the Ducks, who seem to have no gear other than “hope John Gibson and a few deadly shooters can save the day.”

Granlund and Jason Zucker both generated three points, so you could consider them tied for the second star. Granlund gets the slight edge because he scored two goals and one assist, while Zucker generated two assists and one goal. Again, you could make the argument that Zucker should get that nod instead (or be the third star, if you’re really being difficult), as he had five SOG to Granlund’s two, and Zucker’s tally was the GWG.

Still, Granlund enjoyed a slightly more impressive night, including really making it easy for Zucker on his goal.

The Wild are quietly heating up, with wins in nine of their last 11 games. Bruce Boudreau just finds ways to keep his team’s regular-season-relevant, doesn’t he? Granlund and Zucker deserve serious credit for stepping up with Eric Staal banged up.

3. Chad Johnson

Friday was a solid night for goalies around the NHL. Sergei Bobrovsky earned praise from Torts and had the same number of saves (33) as Johnson. Like Bob, Frederik Andersen only allowed one goal while making 38 stops.

Chad Johnson is the only goalie who earned a shutout on Friday, though.

Considering Jake Allen‘s substantial struggles, the Blues might want to lean on Johnson for a while, as the journeyman goalie has – on occasion – shown that he can carry a team in net at times during certain stretches. The Blues have been able to occasionally create a really nurturing atmosphere for hot-and-cold goalies (like Brian Elliott, Johnson’s creasemate from last season), so perhaps Johnson could go on a mini-run? If nothing else, this was a nice win, especially if Mike Yeo is in any way looking over his shoulder at Joel Quenneville.

In other Blues news, Ryan O'Reilly is on a nine-game point streak.

Highlights

It didn’t translate to a goal, but this bit of Scheifele wizardry was magical:

Speaking of magical, Nick Foligno‘s beautiful pass to Oliver Bjorkstrand played a trick on three Capitals opponents:

Andreas Athanasiou ranks as one of Friday’s honorable mentions, scoring the goal that sent Detroit’s game against the Rangers into OT, then setting up Dylan Larkin for this OT game-winner:

Lowlight

Here’s hoping referee Brad Meier is feeling OK after this uncomfortable fall:

Factoids

Wheeler’s 400th assist wasn’t the only milestone from Friday. Patrick Marleau didn’t do a whole lot for it (Nazem Kadri ended up batting down a puck for a nice goal), but most of his 600 career assists have surely been impressive. (These two assist milestones explain the big apples part of this post’s headline, in case that wasn’t clear.)

Kinda cool to see his old buddy Joe Thornton on this list with him:

Chad Johnson’s enjoyed some nice peak moments in the NHL, but it’s been a while since he’s enjoyed a night like Friday.

Rarely a bad time to see your name next to Wayne Gretzky’s, eh, Blake Wheeler?

Scores

TOR 6 – NJD 1
CBJ 2 – WSH 1
DET 3 – NYR 2 (OT)
STL 4 – SJS 0
WPG 5 – COL 2
MIN 5 – ANA 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Red Wings win; Laviolette lost a bet

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Three Stars

1. Mark Stone

The fantastic two-way winger performed at a high level for Ottawa, generating two goals (including the impressive overtime game-winner) and an assist while logging a busy 20:53 time on ice.

On a night where stone generated a +2 rating, the 26-year-old fired four shots on goal, delivered two hits, and blocked two shots. Stone was probably the biggest reason the Senators won a battle of not-as-dour-as-expected teams.

(See his booming OTGWG in the highlights section.)

2. Nathan MacKinnon

Gabriel Landeskog‘s two goals (and five goals in two games) grabs your attention, but MacKinnon actually had the better overall game.

MacKinnon scored one goal, already his eighth of 2017-18, and also generated two assists. They were primary helpers on both of Landeskog’s goals.

It was an all-around effort for the speedster, as MacKinnon finished +2, generated five SOG, and also delivered a hit and a blocked shot. About the only thing you’d ask for is more success on draws.

Philipp Grubauer was crucial to Colorado’s success, too, stopping 42 out of 43 shots.

(For more on MacKinnon’s rise to stardom, click here.)

3. Jeff Skinner

You could point out plenty of other three-point games from Saturday; perhaps you’d highlight Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jakub Voracek, or Patrick Kane instead?

Regardless, Skinner’s starting to heat up for Buffalo, with all six of his points coming during the Sabres’ last four games. Skinner’s hat-trick goal itself was an empty-netter, but his Saturday was still sterling; he scored on all three of his SOG and sported a +4 as Buffalo added to the Kings’ miseries. Jack Eichel was fantastic in his own right, collecting three assists.

This sort of result really has to be heartening for the up-and-down Sabres.

Highlights

When in doubt, go with overtime game-winners. There were a few to choose from on a busy Saturday around the NHL, but let’s go with Stone’s authoritative shot:

And Gustav Nyquist taking advantage of a nice play by Dylan Larkin to earn Detroit’s first win of the season:

In what might have been the real highlight of the night, Peter Laviolette lost a bet, and well, this happened:

Factoids

Not bad, Marc-Andre Fleury.

This is quite the zany group of former Senators:

What was that line? Living well is the best revenge?

Scores

Flyers 5, Devils 2
Avalanche 3, Hurricanes 1
Sabres 5, Kings 1
Jets 5, Coyotes 3
Blues 4, Maple Leafs 1
Senators 4, Canadiens 3 (OT)
Red Wings 4, Panthers 3 (OT)
Blackhawks 4, Blue Jackets 1
Wild 5, Lightning 4 (OT)
Canucks 2, Bruins 1 (OT)
Golden Knights 3, Ducks 1
Predators 3, Oilers 0
Sharks 4, Islanders 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Matthews scores 2 and helps Maple Leafs beat Red Wings 5-3

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DETROIT (AP) — Auston Matthews heard the short list of NHL greats he joined by scoring nine times in the first five games of the season.

Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Marleau, Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy are the only other players in league history to pull off the feat.

”Nice,” Matthews said after scoring twice for a league-leading nine goals to help Toronto beat Detroit 5-3 Thursday night.

Matthews is the third player in franchise history to score in the first five games of a season.

”He had a fast start last year, too, unfortunately he got injured,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. ”He’s a big man. He’s really worked hard on his body. He’s worked hard on his skating and all parts of his game. With and without the puck, he’s better.”

Morgan Rielly had a goal and an assist, giving him 12 points to surpass Bobby Orr’s strong start during the 1973-74 season. Among defensemen, Rielly trails only Harry Cameron, who had 15 points in the Toronto Arenas’ first five games of the 1917-18 season.

”I’m not going to address personal stuff,” Rielly said. ”I think it’s more important to move on.”

Nick Jensen gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead midway through the first period and scored a second goal midway through the third to pull them within a goal.

”It’s never as sweet when you get the goals but you don’t get the win,” he said.

Soon after Jensen’s second goal, Matthews took advantage of a power play by scoring his second goal of the game.

Detroit pulled within a goal again when a review determined Dylan Larkin scored with 6:04 left in the game. The Red Wings pulled Jimmy Howard to add an extra skater, but Ron Hainsey scored an empty-net goal to seal the win.

”I didn’t like the third,” said Babcock, a former Detroit coach. ”We didn’t take care of the puck as good and we didn’t keep our foot on the gas.”

Frederik Andersen made 26 saves and Mitch Marner had a goal for the Maple Leafs.

Howard had 30 stops for the rebuilding Red Wings, who have lost their first four games for the first time since the 1980.

”Bits and pieces of the game we did some of the good things, but it wasn’t enough done right,” Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.

John Tavares, the top prize in free agency last summer, had four assists for the Atlantic Division-leading Maple Leafs, winners of three straight.

”It’s great for the all the guys who are doing some scoring right now,” Babcock said. ”It makes you feel good. In the end, though, it’s about winning. It doesn’t really matter who does the scoring as long as you find a way to win. It’s an exciting time for our team, but we’ve got to get a lot better.”

NOTES: Matthews joined Sweeney Schriner (1944-45) and Corb Denneny (1921-22) in team history as the three players who scored in each of its first five games in a season. … The Red Wings announced before the game they will retire Hall of Famer Red Kelly’s No. 4 jersey on Feb. 1, 2019, when they host Toronto. Kelly played in Detroit from 1947-60 and for the Maple Leafs from 1960-67. Toronto retired his jersey two years ago. … Jensen has scored three of the six goals in his career against Toronto. The defenseman did not score in 81 games last season and had four the previous season as a rookie.

PHT Morning Skate: Nylander on contract; Smith-Pelly wants change

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, if you missed it, enjoy the highlights of Thursday’s 13-goal Penguins-Capitals game.

• Gritty is getting his own hockey card. [Upper Deck]

Erik Karlsson on his exit from Ottawa: “They had me traded in February already at the deadline, we were told [Karlsson and Bobby Ryan] were pretty much gone. That was very tough to hear. At that point I think both me and my wife said we can’t control this, and when the time comes we’ll deal with it then.” [Ottawa Citizen]

• Speaking to Swedish outlet Aftonbladet, Maple Leafs forward William Nylander, who’s currently without a contract, spoke about his situation: “In the end I have to take care of myself and do what I and my agent thinks is right. Especially if it’s about several years to come. I need to think long term. It’s my own future it’s about.” [Sportsnet]

• A great read on Devante Smith-Pelly of the Washington Capitals and his goal to change the culture in hockey. [ESPN]

• A broken jaw will sideline Jesper Bratt, opening the door for the New Jersey Devils to sign Drew Stafford, who’s been on a PTO. [Devils]

• The ECHL has announced it will test video replay of goals in four arenas this season. [ECHL]

• The Ottawa Senators are prepared for the 2018-19 season with an us-against-the-world mentality. [TSN]

• Why Dylan Larkin is the building block the Detroit Red Wings need. [USA Today]

• For Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, is this their last chance at glory? [Star Tribune]

• What’s life like for two franchise — Ottawa and the Islanders — who have watched their franchise players go? [Sporting News]

• What Dmitry Jaskin brings to the Washington Capitals. [RMNB]

• Five reasons why Colorado Avalanche fans should be excited about this season. [Mile High Hockey]

• Finally, “Gritty” continued his media rounds by appearing on the Conan O’Brien show this week:

More NHL teams than ever are entering season without captain

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Over the past 24 hours Jack Eichel (Buffalo) and Anders Lee (New York Islanders) have been announced as captains of their respective teams. For the Sabres, Eichel will be their first captain since Brian Gionta wore the “C” during the 2016-17 season, while Lee will be filling the role that was left vacated when John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency.

Even after those announcements there are still six teams in the NHL (approximately 20 percent of the league) that will be entering the 2018-19 season without anyone being designated as the “captain” of their team.

Those teams include…

  • The Vegas Golden Knights, who are going forward with the same leadership by committee approach they took during their expansion year (a “23 captains mentality as coach Gerrard Gallant likes to put it).
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs have not named a captain since Dion Phaneuf was traded during the 2015-16 season and will go forward with Tavares, Patrick Marleau, and Morgan Reilly as alternate captains.
  • After having just three captains (Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Steve Yzerman) over the past 32 years the Detroit Red Wings will not name a replacement for Zetterberg following the end of his playing career, instead going with four alternate captains in Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Niklas Kronwall, and Justin Abdelkader.
  • The New York Rangers are going with five alternate captains following the mid-season trade of Ryan McDonagh a year ago, naming Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast, Mike Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, and Marc Staal to the role.
  • The Ottawa Senators are not naming a captain following the trade of defenseman Erik Karlsson just before the start of training camp.
  • In Vancouver, the Canucks are filling the leadership void left by Henrik Sedin’s retirement with a quartet of alternates that includes Brandon Sutter, Bo Horvat, Alex Edler, and Chris Tanev.

In almost all of these situations the teams have opted to phrase it as a “leadership by committee” approach. While the majority of these teams are just starting massive rebuilding projects and just lost their long-time captain (either by trade, free agency, or retirement) within the past few months, Toronto and Vegas are playoff teams a year ago and both expect to be contenders for the Stanley Cup. Vegas was actually playing in the Stanley Cup Final just a few months ago without an official captain.

Regardless of the circumstances, it’s a unique situation because the NHL has never had a season where this many teams are entering the season without a captain. Just look at the past 25 years as the most recent example, where only once did the league have more than three teams without a captain … and that season was this past season when there were four such teams.

It is probably not yet time to say the role of the captain as we know it (a player having the letter “C” stitched on their jersey) is going away (how often do four teams lose captains in one four-month stretch), but it certainly seems teams aren’t as concerned about that letter being stitched on a player’s jersey as they used to be.

Just consider that since the start of the 2014-15 season (a stretch of only five years) there have been 16 teams to enter a season without an officially designated captain on their roster, including the six teams this season. In the 20 years prior to that there were only 19 such teams, or less than one per season on average.

At the end of the day everyone in a locker room knows who the leaders of the team are, whether they have a letter on their jersey or not. Everyone knows who is going to be the player to speak up, who is going to be the player to “lead by example,” and who is going to be the player to “hold everything together.” You should not need a letter to recognize that.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.